Hand built by robots: Proton Gen.2

English singer-songwriter Newton Faulkner had striking ginger dreadlocks and a top 10 hit on his hands in 2007, when he released the percussive guitar-driven “Dream Catch Me” from his album “Hand Built By Robots”. It’s been voted one of the top 100 songs of the 2000s.

Newton Faulkner – Dream Catch Me

Because the song was such a hit, he had to become a robot: rushing the last few tracks of his debut album, in just a few weeks. The album title has stayed in my mind, because of the idea of robots “hand building” something.

In the 2000s, Malaysian car maker Proton was using robots, to put together about 60% of each car it made. It had built a new factory, to make the Waja sedan, and the Gen.2 hatchback (which were similar under the skin). Both were imported into Australia, but strangely enough the $27,990 Waja didn’t sell well. However, the sub-$20,000 Gen.2 did, and it started to appear on streets from late 2004. Its headlights were apparently inspired by a tiger’s eyes. I liked the look of the Gen.2.

Proton GEN2 LE

I was wasting time on eBay in 2012, when I saw a manual orange 2007 Gen.2 offered for $2,300 unregistered, at a Nambour car dealer. A 5-year-old car (with aircon, central locking and alloys) for $2,300!? The ’07 model was selling used for around $5,000, registered. You might think “what’s wrong with it?”, but I knew the dealer wanted this trade-in gone because it was an unknown model to have to resell. To be fair though, it did need new tyres.. and the push-down door lock replaced on a rear door. Proton parts weren’t found anywhere near Nambour.

I’d changed jobs the year before and still had some funds from my unused holiday payout, so I was able to talk my wife into letting me buy it – and driving me up to get it. With the dealer paid and a Transport Department permit obtained, I drove it home.

Proton launched in Australia in the mid-90s, selling copied Mitsubishi designs as a “Wira” with the slogan “People go on and on about Proton”. However, despite a million kilometre warranty (yep, you read it right – but only over 3 years) not many people went on about them – or bought them in those early days.

At around the same time, Proton bought a majority stake in British sports car maker Lotus, and had them help create new models – one of which was the Gen.2. Driving home in my orange buy, I could feel the Lotus influence on the handling (a lot of fun to drive, very tight on the road), but I could also hear the road rumble due to lack of soundproofing, and see the cheapness of the seating and interior plastic.

proton int

It looked very funky, with aircon controls stacked on 3 dials at the bottom of the dash, a sporty steering wheel, and an analogue clock at the top. However if you ran your fingers over the dash, door trim and steering wheel, it had all the roughness of very used Tupperware – and none of the flexibility. Plus, the driver’s seat might have been built by the Flat Earth Society – it was like sitting on a hard park bench, leaving you hanging on for dear life while going around a corner. So it handled well, but you’d be brave to demonstrate that.

With 4 new tyres and (after some weeks of waiting) a new lock for the back door from a dealer near me, the Gen.2 was registered and used as my second car. I eventually put it online to sell, and a young lady (not all that local) bought it for a handy profit – this time.

Incredibly, not long after I sold it, this car built by robots was stalking me like The Terminator. One morning as I drove into the city along a very western route (to avoid the traffic of the main one), a blob of orange appeared in my rear vision mirror: it was the Gen.2, being driven by the young lady who’d bought it off me.

My dream (sale) did catch me.

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